Beer-Braised Beef: Helping to keep you warm this winter

Stout Braised Beef StewEven though it’s December, it’s still been fairly temperate in Portland. There was one day when I woke up to see a light dusting of snow, but for the most part it’s been a mellow winter. Which is pretty perfect as far as I’m concerned. As someone who bikes to work year-round, I am loving that when I go outside it still looks like autumn.

And while I haven’t been feeling the intense desire to hibernate, I still have had the usual cold-weather culinary urges — stews, soups and crockpots, oh my! I’m sure you all know the feeling, these are the things that get us through until spring. It seems so comforting to have a pot on the stove filled with chili or split pea soup.

So when I picked up a small chuck roast at the store, my first thought was beef stew. I usually make a pretty traditional version — mire poix, tomatoes and lots of woody herbs. However, I was feeling a little frisky and decided to try something different. Which is where this recipe for stout-braised beef comes in.

Now first let me assure you that I know cooking with alcohol is nothing innovative. I’ve been a dedicated believer in the power of beef and beer for quite some time. Perhaps it was the horseradish garnish that made this recipe so intriguing.

Which leads me on a slight tangent…As a kid, I thought horseradish sauce was the most disgusting thing ever. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the taste — I never got that far — it must have simply been the name. But my stepdad (a longtime horseradish lover) swore that some day I would discover its amazing and spicy deliciousness on my own. And, crazily enough, I did. I’m not certain of when it happened, but if you give me roast beef, my first instinct is to look for the “horsey sauce,” the hotter, the better.

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The dinner that would have gotten me on The Price is Right!

So last week, while grocery shopping, I had a moment to revel in the fact that if I had been on a game show, I would have won big, like maybe a new car or a trip to France.

This is how it happened…

I had some stuff at home to make dinner out of — chicken breasts, brussels sprouts and a little bit of spinach — but it certainly wasn’t cohesive enough for an actual meal. In fact it was rather underwhelming. I had also forgotten to bring my debit card to work, which meant I was very limited in what I could buy in terms of produce on my way home (since I commute by bike errands need to be very streamlined). I did however manage to scrounge up four dollars in cash.

After a childhood spent watching The Price is Right and Supermarket Sweep, this shopping trip was a challenge I gleefully accepted. I started with a couple of cups of cake flour from the bulk section (it was the same night I made my Banana Caramel Upside Down Cake and quite honestly that was my priority). Then I grabbed a handful or two of tiny red potatoes. I actually picked out the smallest ones because they were just so damn cute. Then I carefully selected three carrots, a head of garlic and a few green beans. Mentally I calculated their prices, weighing everything a second time. Hesitantly I grabbed a red onion. Then on my way to check out, I haphazardly lunged for a bunch of parsley.

Nervously I approached the checkout stand and watched the tally climb as each item slid across the scanner. This was definitely a time where I was grateful that I live in a city with no sales tax! After the last item went into the bag, the cashier gave me the total:

Four dollars on the dot!

And this is when I envisioned Bob Barker giving me a big hug and congratulating me on winning both Showcase Showdowns. I’m embarrassed to admit I would have been one of those women that practically mauled him they were so excited. Man, I loved Bob Barker as a kid.

I proudly packed my goodies away and upon arriving home, immediately got the oven hot and set to work making dinner. I wasn’t too sure what I was going to make, so I started with the easy stuff first — roasting some vegetables.

I rubbed the head of garlic in olive oil, wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven. Then I did the same to the red onion (cut into slices), brussels sprouts (cut in half) and potatoes (left whole). A quick splash of oil, some salt and pepper, and in the oven they went.

I contemplated roasting the carrots as well but thought I’d do something a little different with them just for the hell of it. I wanted to preserve their vibrant colors so I went with a simple glazing technique from America’s Test Kitchen’s Light and Healthy cookbook. It’s simple, quick and, well, healthy.

But before we get that far, let’s take a moment to appreciate my pretty carrots.

So pretty!

Now the carrot recipe is one I use fairly often because it only requires one pan (I use a large skillet) and a handful of ingredients — carrots, sugar, olive oil, water and (if you’re me) butter. Start off with a cup of water, a splash of sugar and a dash of olive oil in the pan and bring to a boil. Add in the carrots (parsnips also work great) and cover. Let simmer until the carrots are just tender, about 7 minutes or so. Then remove the lid, turn the heat to high and let the liquid evaporate, stirring often. The carrots will brown and caramelize quickly so keep your eye on them. This is where I add a nubbin of butter just to help things out. Remember, there is a fine line between caramelized and burnt.

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